Poem of the Week | March 01, 2021

This week’s Poem of the Week is “Erosion at Punalu’u Beach” by Grace Wagner!

Grace Wagner is a queer, nonbinary poet living with a disability in Houston, TX where they teach literature and creative writing at the Unviersity of Houston. They were recently honored with an Academy of American Poets Award, and their work has been featured or is upcoming in Salmagundi Magazine, The Atlanta Review, The Offing, Hayden’s Ferry Review, The West Review, and Palette Poetry. For more, check out their website: www.gracewagnerpoet.com


Erosion at Punalu’u Beach

Black sand—volcanic land of broken glass, fissure of earth erupting
from the white-surfaced sea—made bright by that collision

of liquid, rock, and liquidrock—here, fragments remain
fragments, obsidian even at noon—

I was, I think, still a child, shaped like a woman I would never
grow into—shedding my dress,

shoeless, I walked onto the black sand—I learned then
that pain can make you crave

the water; I felt the shards cut me, my feet
city-soft and nearly bleeding;

I walked into the surf and prayed
the land would change—

I couldn’t see then,
the sand soften and slip

away from the shore,
couldn’t see

my edges
worn smooth—what wearing away of that newly-womaned body!

                                                                     All prayers for change are answered—

It can take a decade to lose the shore to the sea—it took me three
to wear away the fragments, broken before my birth, a double X marked
on my shore, predetermined me—sharp edges shredding
my feet even then, even there on that black beach, as I stood,
dreading the trek back up the shore—

the empty dress that awaited me.


Author’s Note

I wrote this poem in response to the tradition of the American Shore Ode wherein a poet stands at the shoreline and contemplates the liminality of the landscape. I expanded this contemplation to explore my relation to gender and the liminality of my gendered experience. As a nonbinary person, I have come to understand that my gender is not predicated on my chromosomes or by my birth certificate. This poem is about my struggles to come to terms with womanhood and my ultimate rejection of performative gender roles. The form reflects this as the couplets—the formal analog to the gender binary—are worn away until they explode outward, ultimately coming to rest on the rejected image of traditional gendered expectations, the empty dress.